Detection and surgical treatment of cervical lymph nodes in differentiated thyroid cancer

John C Watkinson, Jayne A Franklyn, Julie F C Olliff
Thyroid: Official Journal of the American Thyroid Association 2006, 16 (2): 187-94
There is considerable controversy regarding the treatment of patients with cervical metastases from differentiated thyroid cancer. Most have papillary carcinoma and the main areas of contention relate to methods of assessment and staging, surgical management and mode of follow up. there is little evidence to support elective anatomical imaging with CT or MRI in those patients with suspected or proven malignancy at the primary site as indicated by fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) but who have no clinical evidence of nodal disease. The role of routine ultrasound (US) in the pre-operative assessment of suspected or known malignancy is developing but is largely unproven. When it is performed, high risk areas for metastatic neck disease (levels II-V) should be assessed. Suspicious nodes on US should be further evaluated by FNAC. Suspected or proven neck disease may be further assessed pre-operatively with CT or MRI and then treated surgically. Disease in the central compartment requires a total thyroidectomy and level VI central compartment neck dissection. Suspected or proven lateral compartment cancer should be treated by selective neck dissection (at least levels III, IV, and V) below the accessory nerve. There is no role for 'Berry picking' and clinically node negative high risk patients should have an elective central compartment level VI neck dissection. Sentinel node biopsy lays no role and neither does elective lateral compartment surgery in patients with no clinical or radiological evidence of disease. For follow up, US represents the most sensitive means of detecting neck recurrences and in the presence of an elevated serum thyroglobulin, imaging may also include whole body iodine-131 scanning and anatomical imaging with CT or MRI. The role of PET remains controversial but is likely to develop further as the technique becomes more widely available. In the future, the concentration of patients with this disease in large center can only improve the way we treat differentiated thyroid cancer.

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